Wednesday’s House of Commons debate on Aleppo achieved little with regards to the establishment of no-fly zone over the besieged Syrian city, but it was notable for the foreign secretary’s call for “demonstrations” to take place outside Russia’s embassy in response to the Kremlin’s war crimes in Syria. (In doing so, he echoed the Labour MP Anne Clwyd’s earlier intervention in the debate). What’s more, Boris Johnson singled out the anti-war Stop the War coalition for its inaction. “Where is the Stop The War Coalition at the moment?”, he asked, “Where are they?”
The answer was provided by the coalition’s vice chair Chris Nineham on Radio 4’s Today show on Wednesday morning. Stop the War, Nineham said, would not organise demonstrations because “it would also actually increase the hysteria and jingoism that is being whipped up at the moment against Russia.” Yet, if he believes it is a demonstration – rather than the Kremlin’s bombing of an UN aid convoy and deliberate targeting of civilians in Syria – that risks whipping up anti-Russia “hysteria”, then he has a radically different outlook to most in Britain.
Nineham gushed that Stop the War is pushing back against efforts by “politicians and the media to portray Russia as the only problem in Syria”. But Stop the War does not just refuse to criticise Russia. It actively supports the Russian point of view.
Stop the War provides a steady stream of guests for RT, the Kremlin’s chief propaganda outlet and mouthpiece television channel in the UK. Over recent years, a number of its patrons have appeared on the network, including Diane Abbott and Mark Serwotka. So too have several of its officers (John Rees, Carol Turner, Andrew Murray, and Chris Nineham) and steering committee (Shadia Edwards-Dashti, Abbas Edalat, Matthew Willgress, and Joe Glenton) appeared. George Galloway, a patron and prominent figure, even has his own show: “Sputnik: Orbiting the world with George Galloway”.
Jeremy Corbyn – when he was chair of Stop the War – encouraged his supporters to watch the channel. Amid the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, Corbyn tweeted: “Try Russia Today … more objective on Libya than most.”
For a pacifist organisation, Stop The War could hardly be more indulgent of Vladimir Putin’s wars. It defended Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 as a reaction to “the ambition of the USA to exercise global hegemony”. When Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, it was quick to blame NATO and the European Union for “surrounding Russia with military bases and puppet regimes sympathetic to the West”. In these and other ways, Stop the War frequently treats Russia with considerably more warmth than it shows to Western countries that are the UK’s allies or to Western institutions of which the UK is a member.
In opposing Western military intervention, Stop the War has aligned itself with Kremlin-backed organisations in Russia. It is, for example, a partner of the Anti-Globalisation Movement of Russia; an initiative supported by the Russian National Charity Fund, which was created in 1999 by President Putin and which has provided the Movement with significant funding since 2014. Headed by the Russian nationalist Alexander Ionov, the Movement counts Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as honourable members.
All of the evidence suggests that Stop the War is sympathetic to Russia, and not simply an outfit concerned with “opposing the West” (as Nineham argued on the Today show). Its history of support for Russia should have closed the argument on them some time ago.
Dr Andrew Foxall is Director of the Russia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society, a London-based international affairs think-tank.
Stop the War has been approached for a response.